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The People's Voice: By our admission, Mary is an angel

Published: Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
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(Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com)
Mary McCormick has been working in the CGH Birthing Center for 34 years.
Caption
(Christopher Heimerman/cheimerman@saukvalley.com)
Mary McCormick takes the vitals of Anna Heimerman on Aug. 10, 2013. McCormick admitted the Heimermans into The Birthing Center at CGH Medical Center, where she has worked for 34 years.

During an interview with Mary McCormick for the latest People’s Voice, she leaned over and said, “You’ve got tears in your eyes.”

Of course I did. I had just been told I’m a great dad by someone who couldn’t be more in the know.

How about this for a resume: 37 years as an OB nurse, 34 of them at The Birthing Center at CGH Medical Center, and 11 kids – that’s 11, like with two 1’s. And her love radiated as she went through the roll call.

Click here to listen to the podcast of my interview with Mary McCormick.

Her oldest, Matthew, lives in South Elgin with his wife and kids. Philip and his wife are in West Allis, Wisconsin. Sarah is an OB doctor in the military, stationed at Fort Bragg. Kate lives in California with her husband and little one – their second is on the way, and Mary plans to be there in November. Michael lives in Thomas, west of Tampico. Andrew just graduated from Western Illinois University. Mary Elizabeth, whom Mary introduces as No. 2 – “Someone has to carry on my legacy,” she says, nearly keeping herself from laughing – works alongside mom at The Birthing Center. Willie is about to start at Kishwaukee Community College before transferring to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to get his ag degree. Alex, Jacob and Abby are in their senior, junior and freshman years of high school, respectively.

Boy, that’s a long paragraph. But Mary rattled off all the information in about 20 seconds.

Today, Mary feels like family. One thing’s for certain: I’ll never forget first meeting her.

About an hour before our frenzied introduction, my wife, Kayla, and I were kicking two dear friends out of our house. They did nothing wrong. It was baby time.

The next half-hour is a blur. I just remember Kayla being absurdly calm and collected as we grabbed the very last things we would need for at least 3 days in the hospital.

As I drove the 1.5 miles to CGH Medical Center, millions of thoughts roared through my head.

By the time we got to The Birthing Center, I needed some reassurance. And we got a heavy dose of it in Mary, who admitted us and quickly took us to Room 343. Her dry wit comes through as quickly as her unrivaled Midwestern hospitality, as she says all the right things. Joke here. Reassuring statement there.

Her cool demeanor is so much more impressive when you take into account that she’s pretty much on an island on a Saturday afternoon. Like my office, The Birthing Center is pretty quiet at that time. So it takes time to “get the team together.”

“When somebody appears on our doorstep, you’re running through in your head, ‘I’ve got to get this ready. I’ve got to get her ready for surgery and make sure her babies are safe,’” Mary said.

That behind-the-scenes effort goes on while Mary, you know, takes care of someone who’s going through something that even the most comprehensive birthing class can’t simulate. Oh, and this particular subject is having twins, by the way. Kind of a big deal.

“When a patient comes in, there’s a sense of fear,” Mary said. “I try to make them feel comfortable – sometimes a little joke or a smile makes them feel at ease. But staying calm is very important.”

She is quick to admit it’s a different game than it was years ago, when the operating room was downstairs. She smiles when she recalls doctors running up the stairs with babies in their arms.

Back to our experience. ... Mary was there throughout the process. It was a blur, but I remember her laughing with me when I absent-mindedly went to take Elise to the recovery room before – hello! – taking her over to meet her mother.

Perhaps most powerfully, though, was her rescuing me in one of my weakest moments. With both girls delivered, I stared with amazement at Elise. But, really, I was scared beyond explanation. I’d just seen more blood than I’d ever imagined being around. Ergo, as excited as I was about the beautiful baby girls, I was frightened for the first love of my life.

“Tell me that Kayla’s going to be OK,” I remember saying to Mary.

“Oh, she’s great,” she said, not skipping a beat, the gleam in her eye washing away all traces of fear. “She did such a great job.”

Everyone did. And that’s why we visit our extended family regularly. It saddens me that the staff says it doesn’t happen that often. Sure, we spent only about 72 hours in the hospital, but in that time, every member of that staff made us feel loved like family.

From Day 1, Mary had the girls dead-pegged, calling Elise the planner, and Anna the doer. I’d say I’m not sure how she figured it out so fast, but, like I mentioned, she’s got some experience. For instance, she quickly realized her daughter, Sarah, is uber-organized and needs structure. Her next daughter, Kate, is a free spirit.

“She is the most compassionate, emotional, wild and crazy person,” Mary said. “She’s like a cat with 20 lives. She can take a job, realize it isn’t for her, and go into something else. Her personality is so huge, and she just gets along with everybody.”

Both of those daughters’ traits are part of Mary’s make-up, and the thrill of seeing children exhibit different aspects of mom and dad will never get old for her.

“They all have their own little personality that makes them unique,” Mary said. “It’s funny to see.”

And I love hearing about her family’s palette of personalities. I’ll eagerly await updates on Willie, who’s overcome often-perplexing knee issues to play football at Kish, and has the lofty goal of playing for the Badgers. It takes a mom like Mary to not only push her children, but also remind them to dream big.

It doesn’t hurt that she’s a football fanatic.

“I’m such a football mom,” Mary said.

I admire the gift Mary has for her line of work, including the work she does in home care. We throw around the term “labor of love” a lot, but I believe Mary’s is the true measuring stick.

“The day that I stop loving taking care of somebody, or just going out and doing something for somebody, is the day I’m done. I’ll walk out the door,” she said. “I love it just as much now, if not more, than the day I started.”

Full disclosure: Despite her big personality, she didn’t want to be featured. She’s much more comfortable staying out of the spotlight. But that’s tough to do when you’re so good at what you do. Last year, she collected more than 50 iCare gold stars, which hospital staff and patients can award to caregivers they believe went above and beyond expectations.

“It does make me feel good that, when I take care of a patient, that they appreciated it,” Mary said. “I love it. I absolutely love it.”

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